Edlin was afraid to come close. She could count with one hand the people she allowed such proximity.
First was Nyle. Well, there was no escaping her connection with Nyle. They were twins; connected – two halves of a whole. Their bond was not like their cousins Pamela and Pandora’s heavy metal chain where they were almost one and the same. No, Nyle and Edlin were opposites and their bond was an independent mutual understanding. Edlin was born to come forward and compete, Nyle to step back and support. They were different, and they respected that ever so solemnly. Those differences are what they would die for, defending each other.
Antonia was their mother’s sister, who took them in after they lost their parents. It was difficult, bringing two young Fairchilds, natural hydromancers… to her husband’s house. The Blaisdales were known as a clan of pyromancy. But Antonia was determined to raise her niece and nephew along with her son. Perhaps that was what made it most tragic when the woman had lost her own mind, the reasons still shrouded in a mystery.
After that, Ardeth was their guardian. Their cousin was only a few years older than Edlin and Nyle, but he saw the world differently. Ardeth taught them how to fight, how to be strong. When the twins were first brought into Blaisdale mansion, sweet and kindly Antonia told them not to be afraid, but steel-gazed Ardeth told them to be so. Ardeth’s advice seemed more useful. They were so afraid that they never put down their defenses. He taught them the bitter truths of life – the three of them outsiders in his father’s house, his mother locked away in her room where she could hurt no one. Ardeth kept Edlin and Nyle under the guise of making them his aides. A young lord was entitled to such demands, and perhaps it was partly guilt that Edlin and Nyle chose to stay with him because he did not want to leave him alone to listen to his mother’s haunted screams when her mind was at its worst.
For quite a time, it was just them, three against the world, motherless, fatherless too in a lot of ways. Their other family – the Dwyres – were a loving family, and they saw their other aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents every so often, have felt their warmth each time they visited. Still, they stayed in the Blaisdale house.
Ardeth was ambitious and cunning. Ardeth was vengeful. Nyle stayed beside him because he wanted to care for him. Edlin would stay because she knew Ardeth was working on uncovering the mystery behind his mother’s fall from grace, because clues have led to the involvement of either a sibling or his own father, and Edlin was determined to see justice through.
For quite a time, it was just them – Edlin and Ardeth. Protecting Nyle, their heart, investigating the snakes who lived in the same roof as they did. The biggest perhaps was the very hand that fed them.
Edlin did not care. If Ardeth could prove that it was his father who instigated Antonia’s fall, Edlin herself would run the knife through Fidelius Blaisdale’s heart.
For quite a time, it was just her – Edlin Dwyre Fairchild – daughter of a weaponsmith and a hydromancer, and the grudges she cradled and nurtured to her chest.
Then, there was Nate.
Edlin often scoffed at her twin for falling for Garrett – a distant cousin. She would sniff in disdain whenever Nyle would blush at the letters, narrow her eyes as Ardeth teased, like he was pleased that Nyle was letting himself be distracted by a boyish troublemaker instead of training or attending to his duties.
Then, there was Nate, and Edlin couldn’t judge her brother anymore. She had her own Garrett now.
Boyish, charming, brave and gentle. Another distant cousin – everyone was a distant cousin anyway, in the society they had. But he was the kind of distant cousin you knew from childhood and met again when your own emotions are ever-so-likely to betray their supposed master.
Nate’s was a long story that Nyle’s and Garrett’s whirlwind romance. As a young man, Nate had listened to a certain flame-haired little girl complain about how peculiar, weak, difficult and thick-headed her twin brother was. Nate had always smiled in amusement while muttering his spells and forging his first weapons as young Edlin talked to and watched him. He had always told the girl to respect what her twin has to say or do, that she didn’t just understand Nyle because they had different personalities. Edlin only ever complained to Nate. Years later, she would talk about pompous Blaisdale sons and daughters that were being disrespectful to Master Ardeth, how she can never relax because they were all untrustworthy. Nate would smile at her and tell her that Ardeth trusted her very much because she was just as competent.
It was Nate who taught her how to be herself. He helped her understand Nyle without losing to his reason and he helped her meet Ardeth’s expectations without losing her heart.
Edlin, however, did not know what she helped Nate with, if she had helped him with anything, even.
“Nate, am I bothering you? Just tell me so.” – twelve and Edlin was mature enough to keep her silence when she knew that the man was preoccupied with something else.
The man smiled fondly – he always did. “No, Edlin. I am listening to you. You know I always am.” He muttered another spell and put his hand over the blade of a long sword.
“Nyle tells me that Garrett wants to be a soldier. What do you want to do, Nate?”
The man thought for a while. “I would like to be a soldier, too. That is fine by me. But I love what I do now, the family art. Making weapons is my specialty.”
“Are you going to compete with everyone else for Dwyre Heir?” – because if he was, then Edlin would hate to compete with him, although she knew that he should be the least of her worries – Lucina had already confirmed her place in the race.
“I already am.”
The girl pursed her lips, looking down. “You will win. You are the best of them.”
“I am not too confident, Edlin. Garrett is already the favorite. Ardeth is formidable – I am thankful he is not in the race and is in the Blaisdale’s instead. And there is Lucina and Tamara to compete with. I do not underestimate their capabilities. Have you seen them casting a necromantic spell?”
The girl shook her head. “No, not yet.”
“They are strong. I have major competition. How about you?”
Putting her chin in her hand, the girl avoided his gaze. “I am already far behind.”
“Do not say that. You are capable of so much, and I know you and Nyle are quite strong pyromancers, a rare feat for someone coming from a born hydromancer.” The man paused a little in his work, looking at her. “You are so young, but you are a worthy candidate, Edlin. Do not be threatened. Just be you.”
He always said that.
“Have you found out what you would want to master?”
Edlin did not want to compete because she did not know what to excel at – she did not know what to be proud of. Tamara was already proving to be the brightest in weapon-handling. Lucina was strong in her enchantment, strategy and leadership skills, and is quickly mastering her twin double-edged swords. Feliks was learning the way of the sword at a fast pace. Garrett and Nate were competing with Lucina’s leadership expertise and Tamara’s combat skills, adding to their legerdemain in weaponwork. Edlin did not want to be behind them, but she already was.
She could not answer Nate, then.
He always told her to “do what you want to do”.
Edlin’s best bet was the bow and arrow, because her instructors have praised her for her accuracy and precision. In the group, she was the only one who was proving special in the long-range combat department. But leaders were always looked up to because of their skill in the battlefield. She doubted that dexterity in the bow and arrow would be valued as much when it came down to being a candidate for heir.
She tried to learn close-range knife combat, but, much like her twin brother Nyle, she proved adept at throwing them to the target.
Her other cousins Atlas and Feliks teased her for being a coward, not wanting to fight head-on, but she huffed and told them that it was what she preferred, that they should step back or else she was throwing them the closest possible projectile in reach. She thanked Nate whenever the young man frowned on his younger brothers and told them to leave Edlin alone.
She tried to master the sword then. Her skills were above average, and she kept on it. She would have more chances this way, even though she did not know exactly what she wanted to accomplish.
Did she even want to become the next Dwyre Head?
All of them went through that stage, when they were forced to choose something and they were not ready to answer.
But they just had to.
Still, even when she proved to be agile and talented in close combat, Edlin declared her participation in the race without a specialty. Only two other people did that – Garrett and Nate. She gained raised eyebrows because of it. That meant she excelled at anything.
She didn’t, but she would be far behind if she declared her specialty in projectile combat, and at the same time, she would surely lose if she declared enchantment, close-range combat, or strategic skills. Still, she wanted to try. The Fairchilds should have a candidate, even though she had been distant from that side of the family. Nyle was clearly not up for such a task. He was too gentle, a healer rather than a fighter, so it was up to Edlin to take responsibility.
At the time, the only one who didn’t question her was Nate.
If he asked, she would have told him the truth – that she was just afraid to come close. It was why she was afraid to excel in close range.
Nate would have understood, because he was the reason.
The Fairchilds had to battle with the Avents. Young Nyle and Edlin both had to fight. As little children, they held swords at the ready, trying to protect their mother… and themselves.
Along with Ardeth, Nate was in the battle. Dwyres always protected their own, even when some of the battles they would have to fight weren’t theirs.
Edlin never quite forgot how that illusionary technique of the enemy’s got the best of her. How she pierced the sword through Nate’s side… how, when the illusion wore off, Nate was holding her against him in pain, whispering “Calm down, Edlin. It’s just me… You did well. Let go of the sword now. It’s dangerous…”
Nyle was stricken – his mother fell before his eyes, Ardeth was still in the battle, his older cousin was stabbed by his twin sister.
Edlin was screaming and crying at the same time… demanding help from anyone who could lend it. Nyle, still torn from all that has happened, summoned a healing spell with shaking hands. He was sobbing as he pressed the magic to Nate’s wound. Edlin aided him shortly after.
Edlin, at that moment, was still crying as well – but Nate, wincing in pain and panting for breath, was stroking her hair as she buried her head on his chest. He was telling her over and over again…
“You did good… if I was the real enemy, I’d be dead. Please don’t cry. I am alive. You did nothing wrong… You were brave and brilliant – please, stop crying. The Lady Leila would hate to see you this way.”
Edlin would never understand – how was stabbing your protector on a critical spot doing nothing wrong?
From then on, Edlin had been afraid to come close. If she came close, she would defend. If she defended herself, she would hurt someone. That was her scar – clear, straight and permanent – that embedded itself in her mind. She knew that Nate wouldn’t be in that battlefield anymore… The same illusion won’t work anymore… but it was reflex and instinct. She moved with precision, plan and purpose. As children of the Dwyre family, they were all trained to assault the enemy.
It reflected in her relationship with everyone else. She was just afraid to be too attached. Loving too much could hurt. Hurting the ones she loved was the only thing that scared her that much.
This was why she decided that falling for Nate would be the worst. She cannot be compromised. She had Nyle to protect and Ardeth’s back to guard.
Eventually though, she had to confront it. And it was all too soon.
Feuds happened all too often. This time the might Dwyres were challenged by the Weiss.
Of course, Ignatius Dwyre made it a point to test his heir candidates.
“We are giving you the privilege to use three-quarters of the squads. We leave everything in your hands. Lead yourselves. One order: do not lose.”
The candidates stared disbelievingly at such an impossible instruction from the man who was head of their house, in some ways or another their grandfather, but soon enough they managed enough to break out of their trance.
Everything – a word that had always been a heavy one.
Garrett, as always, was the first one to speak up when their grandfather left the room to the candidates. “So… the order has been given. I guess not everyone could take the place of General?”
The other candidates sitting on the round table looked at him: Nate, Lucina, Edlin, Tamara, Atlas and Feliks. Nyle and Eugene weren’t on the race. At least, not yet, in Eugene’s case. He was a strategist in the making, but had kept his intentions secret still.
It was a tradition of courtesy that the first to speak in a gathering as such would be the one to commence the congregation. Lucina raised a hand. Garrett nodded. “Yes, Lucina?”
“We should do it by election.” the woman said. Tamara and Edlin nodded as well.
“Everyone would vote for themselves.” Feliks mumbled under his breath. Atlas sniggered.
“You don’t know that.” Tamara said, bitingly.
“Manners.” – Nate scolded. Him and everyone else sometimes thought his brothers were only in the competition to raise hell and nothing more.
“That would be best.” Garrett smiled. “Everyone is nominated. Let’s cast our votes. Who wants to go first? Lucina? Then going clockwise.”
Lucina was complacent as always. “I vote for myself.”
Tamara spoke up dutifully next. “I vote for Lucina.” Lucina smiled at her closest friend. They had planned this, after all. A united front, always.
Atlas and Feliks raised an eyebrow. But they both quickly dismissed it because they knew that Tamara would hate having to lead, anyway.
“I vote for myself.” Nate continued.
“Of course, I vote for myself too.” Atlas said.
“Same, ‘cause I’m not some loser giving up my fight.” – Feliks continued in turn, eyeing Tamara, who glared at him.
Garrett shrugged. “Well, I vote for Nate.”
Nate blinked. Lucina smiled slightly. Tamara frowned. Atlas and Feliks erupted, scandalized. “WHAT?!”
“I said my vote goes to Nate.” Garrett said, innocent. “I’d hate to lead a bunch of immature guys like you two.”
“Thank you, Garrett.” Nate smiled, grateful.
Feliks and Atlas huffed. They weren’t getting a chance in the matter, then.
Garrett shrugged. “Now for the last vote. Edlin?”
Edlin looked away. No use voting for herself. She would fail them, anyway. But… to choose between Nate and Lucina? Why did she have to be the tie-breaker?
She took a deep breath.
“My vote is with Nate as well.”
She saw Tamara’s look of disdain, but disregarded it. She was aware of her decision.
“Now that was easy.” Garrett seemed satisfied. He bowed his head to the appointed leader and extended his hand. “I give the authority to our commander.”
Nate graciously stood up and bowed back in formality. “Again, thank you. Now would we choose the assistant commander?”
Everyone looked at him pointedly. He chuckled. “Well, of course – Lucina?”
The woman shrugged silently. “I can do that.”
Edlin watched as the proceedings began. Nate and Garrett started to argue with Atlas and Feliks on the strategy, with Lucina being both sides’ devil’s advocate. Tamara watched silently. Garrett was more amused than annoyed at the youngest two members’ antics. Nate was frowning deeply at his younger brothers.
“I can take the front lines.” Tamara volunteered.
“No way are you wiping out that first attack.” Feliks argued.
His cousin glared sharply. “It was just a suggestion. Do you have anything better to say?”
“Yes, I do. I can say that I take the front lines – we’re guaranteed to a victory.” Feliks said confidently.
“You are planning on suicide. I say Tamara is right.” Lucina sighed.
Garrett chuckled. “I agree. Feliks, you can take second line.”
“Always the second line.” Atlas said, sarcastic.
Feliks frowned. “I say I lead my own squad or swordsmen. Then I’ll agree on taking the second line.”
“Very well, I know you are capable.” Nate agreed. “You can choose your own squad. Take up to twenty men.”
“Thank you, big brother.” – and the third son was content.
Garrett turned to Nate. “You are agreeing with Tamara because she will boost morale.”
“And I know she will do outstanding.” Nate looked at his cousin. Tamara smiled as if saying ‘Consider it done’.
Nate nodded and then looked at his second-in-command. “Lucina, can you lead the squads from inside the house and supervise weaponry?”
Lucina was indifferent. “That would be no problem. Anything else? That seems so easy.”
Edlin watched. They all looked so confident. They have their demands, and she did not even know how to make her own.
“Nothing else for now. Also, feel free to choose the healers.” – then the commander turned to Atlas. “You would be guarding the house on the first surge.”
The younger brother looked up blankly. “Seems tedious.”
“You will lead the front lines on the second surge. Eugene will be with you on the line. I estimate complete victory by the second strike if my plans go well.”
“Well, that is nicer. I will do it.” Atlas said with a hint of a smile in his face.
“Edlin, will Ardeth be coming?”
Edlin shook her head. “No. But he is sending Nyle in a few days.”
“Happiness.” Garrett breathed out softly, earning a glare from Edlin and confused looks from the others.
Nate simply rolled his eyes. “You will be in my squad. We are taking second line on the second surge.”
Edlin looked at him. “But-…”
“You were brilliant in close combat, Edlin. I need you to watch my back.”
Watching his back was something she has always done well. Guarding his back, however, if they were in the same battlefield – that was something that she was uncertain with. Her faith was already shaken.
Still. It was order.
He was the commander. She is dutiful enough not to complain.
“Nothing. Please go on.”
Nate nodded, regarding her with a worried look, and then a hopeful cheer-up smile before he looked at Garrett. “And… Garrett?”
“Yes, sir?” his cousin asked with a smirk.
“I give up on you. Do whatever you want.” Garrett knew then that his vote was not for naught. Atlas and Feliks both complained. Nate seemed resigned. Garrett would always be the one who had his way, anyway.
When the time of the battle came, Edlin was standing close to Nate, beside Lucina who was leading and barking out orders in the front yard. The lines were assembled. Tamara was in the front lines as promised, the ones beside her ever confident that they would be successful. Feliks was giving specific instructions to his own squad. Atlas and Astraea were standing on guard. Nyle was standing with the other healers – next to Garrett, who just finished organizing his own squad, the next line after Feliks’.
Edlin saw her brother whispering endless words that all meant ‘be safe’ to the older man. Garrett only wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulders and nodded dutifully, affectionately.
Edlin looked anxious. ‘Nyle would be there to heal him.’ – she thought. ‘But I’ll be by Nate’s side… and I might just serve as a hindrance.’
Nate noted her gaze and put a hand on her shoulder. “What are you worried about, Edlin? Nyle will be just fine.”
She looked up at him. Not anxious but more afraid by then. She spoke, “I might fail.”
Nate smiled. “You won’t. I’ll keep you safe-“
“How about you? Who will keep you safe?” Edlin asked, turning to face him.
The man withdrew his hand from her shoulder and instead gripped her trembling hand. Edlin closed her eyes as he kissed her forehead.
She was so afraid to come close.
Yet when the battle commenced, she did. She took that hit for him, because he believed that she would keep him safe. She was trembling in fear in the battlefield – not because she was afraid to die or be hurt or to kill but because she was afraid that she might hurt him, or that he might get hurt because of her.
“Edlin!” – it was Nate who screamed her name. She heard him shout a bout of strong spells to fend off the enemies so that he could catch her fall. “Hold on. I’m here.”
She never heard his voice quiver like that.
She heard her brother cry her name. Nate called Nyle back, and soon enough, she was in Nyle’s arms as he ran towards the house. She was guided down on a chair while Nyle healed the wounds on her legs and the one in her arm. She winced in pain and held on to her twin, who kept telling her that it will be fine – the pain would not last that long.
“He is in the field. He will be alright-”
She breathed out her question. “Who is looking… o-out f-for… for him?”
Nyle looked at her with the most worried eyes. “Everyone. He is the commander. He would not be left unguarded. Edlin, calm down… you are hurt. I have to heal you-“
“Hurry up! I have to go out there!”
“No, you wouldn’t.” Lucina’s stern voice said. “You are not capable as of the moment. You would stay here and recuperate.”
“You don’t understand! Nate is there and I am supposed to watch his back-“
Lucina did not flinch. “Nate will be alright. You would be a hindrance. Nyle, pass the healing to another healer. Go to the field. Take Edlin’s place.”
Nyle made a move to retort. “But-“
“That is an order.”
Nyle looked away stubbornly as he stood up. He didn’t say anything as he picked up his weapons and set off for battle. Another healer looked over Edlin, but she had already muttered her own spell and started bandaging her leg.
Lucina watched as Edlin ordered the healer with a raised voice. “My arm. Wrap it. Now.”
“Do it.” – Edlin looked up at Lucina then. “Why are you not in the field?”
“Nate’s orders.” – and the woman walked away. Edlin limped towards the great windows and looked at the state of battle outside. Nyle was barely holding up, having to cover both Nate and Garrett. Eugene was assisting him, but the enemies were advancing fast. The others were still engaged in their own fights.
She climbed the stairs and went out on the balcony, where she found Lucina standing still with some guards. She stood beside her cousin and looked at the view from below.
She heard a sound – a low murmuring, and sensed the ascending aura of the woman beside her. Lucina was looking at the battlefield, muttering spells of a foreign tongue.
Necromancy. Edlin saw several enemies fall.
“I can only do this much.” Lucina hissed under her breath as her incantations stopped. The enemies were taken down, but reinforcements approached just as fast.
Edlin knew that she had to do something – but she wouldn’t let herself be afraid by reentering the field. “Lucina.”
“I told you to stay put.” Lucina said, stern. “Damn it, you’re not just a foot soldier, Edlin. You’re my cousin, you’re an heir-“
Edlin was just as stubborn. “Make me a bow.”
Lucina stared at her for a while, then asked. “Your arm is wounded.” – but Edlin watched as the woman signaled to a soldier nearby.
Edlin only looked down. “But this is the thing I do best.”
The second-in-command accepted the weapons that a servant handed to her. She looked down at them for a second before eyeing the other woman again.
“You do know that Nate is in love with someone else. A Kavanagh daughter, if I remember correctly. He’s already given her a forget-me-not to wear on her breast before all this has started.” Lucina said, nonchalant – perhaps testing her cousin.
Edlin knew that. That was why she was scared to fall too deep. She already knew that her feelings were unrequited.
But that would not stop her from wanting to do anything for him.
She made her decision. “That is precisely why I want to protect him.”
Lucina only smiled smugly as she handed over the bow. “This is mine. Tamara herself forged them for me, so you know it’s strong.” Then she stopped as she looked at the arrows. “Would you like poison in your arrows, cousin?”
Edlin returned the smile. “If you will please.”
She aimed with both precision and accuracy. She shot arrows faster than the squad assigned to the very weapon.
Lucina watched as, unhindered by her injuries and heartaches, Edlin Dwyre Fairchild showed her prowess as the best long-range fighter of the Dwyre first family.
In the field, Nate looked back to see the young woman poised to kill as if not injured. He smiled slightly.
He was happy – that Edlin finally did what she had always wanted to do… finally showed them all what she has always been capable of.
Many believed that the Mistress Edlin surpassed even her own expectations of herself that night.
In the aftermath, as she woke up in her bed, she saw Eugene sitting by her bedside. The young man was reading a book when she opened her eyes, grunting in pain.
“Edlin, you are awake. Thank heavens.”
She smiled slightly. “Eugene.”
The young man gripped her hand tightly and pressed it to his face. “We were all so worried.”
“What happened to the battle?”
Eugene chuckled. “We would not be here if we had not won. You did exceptionally, Edlin. You protected and covered so many of us from afar.”
“I am glad.” she closed her eyes and winced at her injured arm and numb legs.
Nate entered the room, followed by Lucina. “Edlin. We are glad you’re doing fine. You should not have forced yourself like that, though.”
“He scolded me for providing you with such heavy-duty weapons. He figured that if they were not as tough, you would not have pushed the limits.” Lucina rolled her eyes.
“I still would have done so. I am stubborn like that.” came her weak reply. “I did break the bow. My apologies, Lucina.”
Lucina shook her head. “Pay it no mind. Tamara was actually quite proud of it.”
Nate perked up again. “Nyle had been watching over you since yesterday night. We only got to make him get some sleep a few hours ago when we swore to keep Eugene on constant watch.”
Edlin sighed. “My brother is hopeless.”
“But I think we have got ourselves the next head archer, don’t you think?” Eugene suggested, utterly optimistic. “Nate?”
A nod from both the commander and his second-in-command. “Definitely.”
After she recovered, Edlin changed her specialty from “general” to “long-range combat” – for the first time since she joined the race, she had something to be proud of.
But despite all that has happened, Edlin was still afraid to come close. She knew the risks, and she was not making a gamble big enough to break her.
Even though sometimes the risk was worth it and the shattered pieces were equivalent to someone else’s happiness.
“Nate?” – she was still the young woman who was content to watch the man she fell in love with as he did his best. Edlin still sat on the corner of the room as she watched Nate forge a new weapon.
“What… what would you tell me if I give up my candidacy?”
Nate looked at her then, expression half-confused and half-understanding. “I will not stop you. And when you do it, I will tell you to wait.”
She blinked. “Wait for what?”
The man smiled. “Wait for me to win the race. When I get the prize, the first thing I will do is appoint you as Head Archer.”
“Because…” – he pretended to think of it for a while, then he looked at her, and reached out a hand to pat her head. “I realized that you are at your best when protecting others from afar.”
Edlin hesitantly looked up at him, then smiled a relieved smile.
“Ah, and I know you well enough to understand that when you make that decision, you are sure of it. You’re brilliant, remember?”
Edlin looked down again, sighed, and let him pat her head again, like the little sister he always saw her as. She watched him again, at his best in anything, and couldn’t help but think that he was the worthiest to win the race.
This man was the brilliant one, and she believed in him.
This was the man that she was afraid to come close to, because he already held her heart. This was the man that she would never regret facing her fears for… because she knew that at any given time, he only wanted for her to be happy.